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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

On the Bernardi/Family First Merger

Apr 26, 2017

I have often discussed the various smaller pro-family and pro-faith political parties in Australia, and asked about the feasibility of some of them joining forces to pack more political punch and stand a better chance in the elections. And discussions between some of these parties have indeed taken place over the years, and I have been involved in some of them.

At best, this has sometimes led to various preferencing deals, but not much more. Now however one set of secret talks has finally borne some fruit. Cory Bernardi’s new Australian Conservatives party has just announced that it has merged with the older Family First party.

One news report put it this way:

bernardi 3Family First will cease to exist from Wednesday after secret talks with Cory Bernardi led the party to merge with his Australian Conservatives. The surprise move, which seeks to unite economic and social conservatives into a strong political bloc, will unsettle the parliamentary landscape, with Family First senator-elect Lucy Gichuhi almost certain to declare herself an independent….
The amalgamation comes after Senator Bernardi, a former South Australian Liberal, flagged his intention last month to contest state and federal elections. Aside from Ms Gichuhi, Family First has two other elected members, former economist Dennis Hood and ex-Liberal minister Robert Brokenshire, both elected to South Australia’s upper house in 2006 and 2008.
The move will have serious ramifications for the next South Australian election, due in March, where Nick Xenophon’s new SA Best party will vie with Senator Bernardi’s team to challenge the major parties. Labor has been in power in the state for 15 years.
Weeks of talks to formalise the union between Australian Conservatives and Family First ended on Saturday, with a joint announcement of the decision expected today. This came after Family First’s state and federal executives voted unanimously to dissolve the party and amalgamate with Australian Conservatives.

FF was formed in 2001 by Adelaide pastor Andrew Evans, and it has had limited success over the years with a few seats being won. Evans said he was pleased with this outcome. Senator-elect Lucy Gichuhi, who took the place of Bob Day in South Australia, has said she will not follow her colleagues into the merger, but will continue as an independent.

One political commentator said this about the merger:

The union of Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives and the Family First Party will shake up right of centre politics in this country. It immediately gives Bernardi a membership list, party infrastructure and state by state divisions to help build his new brand. The two party system is entrenched in Australia, and the rules of the game make it difficult for new entrants to survive, much less thrive. Bernardi needs all the help he can get.
It’s crucial that the name remain broad, meaning that Australian Conservatives should be the nomenclature of choice. But this is no takeover. While Bernardi will be the representative face of the union, the membership and party officials will largely be Family First personnel.

So what about the other like-minded conservative parties? I have said all along that various differences may be difficult to overcome, if not insurmountable. For example, what happens when you have several very strong leaders with forceful personalities? Usually one leader works best in these situations, not two or three co-equals.

So if one guy is the big cheese, will the others be willing to play second fiddle? One could think of Danny Nalliah of Rise Up Australia (RUA) or Fred Nile of the Christian Democratic Party (CDP). Would either one be willing to relinquish their leadership role and take a secondary position if a merger eventuated?

And while all these parties are primarily made up of Christians of various stripes, some like the RUP, CDP, and Australian Christians (AC) are quite adamant about being upfront about their Christian foundation and representation. Others, like FF and the Australian Conservatives play this down, basically passing themselves off as a somewhat secular party.

The older Democratic Labor Party (DLP), while mainly made up of Catholics, also would fit in the latter camp, as would Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party (ON). But one exception to this seems to be possible. The Victorian AC has also been in talks about possible merges, and just moments ago released a statement in their April newsletter saying in part:

A lot can change in a short space of time. You will be aware from our February newsletter that the AC Victoria Executive were having discussions with the leadership of other Christian minor parties. More specifically, we have been working steadily for several months with Family First (Victoria) with a view to merging our two parties. The obvious blessings that flow from Christians working together in unity include a larger membership base, a greater pool of candidates, and better coverage of polling booths at elections, not to mention God’s blessings upon other facets of our operations. Our common goal is to increase the likelihood of having Christian candidates elected to Parliament at next year’s State election.
Last Saturday our State Executive held another meeting with the Family First leadership and were notified that at Federal level, Family First have agreed to merge with Cory Bernardi’s Party, Australian Conservatives, and with the preference that each of their State branches follow suit, which the Victorian branch of Family First have agreed to do. However, this latest announcement won’t hinder the ongoing discussions between AC and FF about our merge, particularly as the Family First leadership desires greatly that AC would also join Australian Conservatives, as they have become convinced during our ongoing discussions, of the strengths that AC could bring to a Victorian Branch of Australian Conservatives. Such a move would unify the Christian political voice in our State even further.
Cory Bernardi has been approached and has said that he is willing to explore all possibilities. We are now waiting for him to organize a date in his busy schedule to meet with the Victorian leadership of AC and FF and this could likely occur within the next week or two. We will notify and poll our members if a positive result is achieved, as our Constitution requires agreement from our members before such a move can be finalized.

So we must stay tuned as to this possibility. And then there are differing policies which can prevent union. While most would agree on many of the cultural and moral issues (pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, etc), they may have bigger differences on things like economic policy. For example, recall that the DLP broke away from the Labor Party, but would still share much of its thinking on economic matters.

And what about a group like ON? Not only is it unlikely that Hanson would consider merging with other parties and/or relinquishing her leadership, but other conservatives would be of two minds in terms of whether they would want her and her party to join with them. So many issues remain which may preclude further unions.

However, just minutes ago Bernardi spoke about ON:

When asked whether he would consider merging with One Nation, Mr Bernardi said it wasn’t an immediate goal. “I will work cooperatively and positively with anyone,” he said. “There are times when I have worked positively with the One Nation senators. I have tremendous respect for their approach in a number of areas. I think Pauline Hanson is one of Australia’s most resilient politicians”.
According to Mr Bernardi, who left the Liberal Party earlier this year, his new party’s values aligned closely with Family First. “We believe in stronger families, limited government, lower taxes, fostering free enterprise and rebuilding civil society,” he said. “Our party is not named after an individual, it is named after a body of individuals, Australian Conservatives, who demand a better way. I’m building a conservative house, designed to last”.

But Bernardi now has FF on board, and by the sound of it, perhaps AC – or parts of it – may soon be as well. Whether groups like the CDP, RUA, and DLP would make a move in this direction remains to be seen. But overall I think the merger was a good idea, and perhaps a few more such mergers could make the Australian Conservatives a real force to be reckoned with.

I hope so, for Australia’s sake.

www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/bernardi-and-family-first-join-forces-for-conservative-vote/news-story/c2604388c3b1c7b1b320d7e9678f8b3d
www.theaustralian.com.au/news/inquirer/australia-should-wish-cory-bernardi-and-his-new-party-well/news-story/9a5136026ed325e52963f47bd1025d0c
www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/peter-dutton-says-the-merger-of-family-first-and-australian-conservatives-was-inevitable/news-story/f7e504b28c0033a64c7ca9b8152395a2

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16 Responses to On the Bernardi/Family First Merger

  • God is moving his chess-pieces, Bill….it’s happening all over the place. I hope things work out well for these mergers.

  • Thanks for this digest of events. While I don’t see a wide range of conservative parties joining with Cory Bernardi, I think the ones that are aligning with him could make a good group of like minded Christians, who, nonetheless, think independently and will provide lively and meaningful debate and the possibility of policy change on a large, national scale.

    I think this is good for Australia.

  • I am reminded of the formation of the Liberal Party, when Bob Menzies called a meeting of the various conservative splinter groups and got them to merge into a single party.

  • Perhaps the groups that do not want to merge should instead agree to an informal coalition where they preference each other at election time, and support each other when it comes to voting in the Senate and the House of Reps.

  • As someone who was directly involved with CTA, CDP and Australian Christians, and even scrutineered for Family First, the amalgamation of FF into Australian Conservatives is good news. It would be even better if other groups could amalgamate as well.

    The problem is agreeing on core values. FF’s problem was that it was ambivalent about its Christianity, while, in Victoria at least FF, was prepared to betray its voters by pragmatically giving 2nd preference to the Democrats: the gamble worked but made Steve Fielding’s election tainted and short-lived.

    What I’ve always advocated is a party solidly based on core Christian values (spelt out in the fine print of its membership policies and candidate selection), but with all policies stated and argued in terms of their pragmatic advantage to the wealth and health of society. That way we explain the value of the Judeo-Chritsian ethic in a way that everyone can respect and understand.

    Better still of course is revival. We need to humble ourselves and pray for forgiveness in not been effective salt and light, and for not cooperating with each other.

  • And don’t forget, Kirrilie Smith from the Australian Liberty Alliance has also gone over to the Australian Conservatives. Hopefully Bernard Gaynor will do likewise.

    It would be good to see the CDP also merge with AC.
    I hope that you are right Bill and we see the emergence of a true conservative political party which has some real influence.
    Regards,
    Roseanne

  • Dear Bill,

    Thank you for this insight into the merger between FF and the AC. A positive alternative to the Labour/Liberal camps is long overdue because there is little difference between the two major parties. Both are tired, worn out and left leaning led by politicians who fail to inspire or impress with their incessant waffling on important moral issues such as traditional marriage and pro life issues.

    One only has to reflect sometimes on the state sanctioned murder of millions of unborn Australians which I suspect most Australians rarely give a passing thought to because the subject is deliberately hidden. To a Christian this should be an abomination of massive proportions flying in the face of the Almighty Father who is the Creator of all life on earth. Tragically we have reached the stage where neither major party or the MSM cares so an alternative is badly needed.

    No institution run by humans is ever destined to be perfect and the family is no exception. However, it was the best we humans in a fallen world could hope for. A group of people tied by blood caring for each other. For families to be able to function properly they should be supported by wise government policies which have never been evident for decades.

    Therefore it is good to see a party emerge which is squarely focused on this institution and intends to implement policies based on Christian principles.

    I ám a practising Catholic. I get Cory Bernardi’s very aptly named ‘Weekly dose of Common Sense’ and am also a supporter of this website which also espouses a lot of commonsense.

    In my humble opinion the Holy Spirit will blow where it will and not always from the direction of those who claim to be Catholic.

  • Interesting times – I’m Happy – God is in Control!

    Love to see how Cory and Pauline would react together.

    It’s GOOD for Australia.

  • Hi Bill, Cory Bernardi and his new alliance have only a narrow window of opportunity to sell their message to the Australian public in general, and the Bible Belt in particular before the next federal election. He and the others in the alliance had better get cracking. Regards, Kel.

  • I truly hope and pray all Christian parties will merge as one force as I witnessed first hand what happens in elections with all the little Christian Parties. It just divides the vote and Christians lose influence.

  • Definitely good news and amalgamation of some of these splinter parties is long overdue. Gaynor is surely thinking about this too. I do remember that Pauline said she was open to amalgamation under Bernardi and so maybe a coalition is a possibility.

    While I sincerely appreciate the position of some of the more overtly Christian parties and people and understand their reluctance, and frankly don’t expect them to sign up to AC, I certainly hope that they will be guided to work more closely in preferences, possibly even forming a loose coalition.

    This is the test for Cory – great leaders have the capability to unite splinter groups, and I pray that this will come about for it is sorely needed in Australia.

  • God does indeed work in mysterious ways. Excellent news, thanks Bill.

  • As someone who has supported Christian based parties for years and been a candidate for AC some years ago, I would welcome an amalgamation of all the smaller Christian parties into one coalition of Conservatives based on Christian values. My observation of state and federal elections over the years is that the current multitude of different Christian parties just confuses Christian voters and dilutes the Christian voice in Australian politics. Also, I feel that small parties formed by one charismatic figure (no matter how Godly and/or worthy that one leader may be) tend to focus on their own narrow set of issues and drift into “crank” territory on a regular, basis such that even those who are initially keen to support them get wary and back off. I think an amalgamated Conservative Party (provided it expresses a real political movement and doesn’t just become the Cory Bernadi Party) would be much more balanced and accountable to the electorate politically. Slimming down the Australian political spectrum to Libs/Labour in the centre right/left; Greens on the left and Conservatives on the right, would give voters a much more workable system to choose from at election time.

  • At the 2012 SA Liberal Electoral College selection of Senators for the 2013 Federal Election, Cory gained more than 50% of the vote on the first ballot – that is more than half the Liberal Party delegates selected Cory and what he stood for. He may well have also held top position again for the 2016 election but graciously recognised that Simon Birmingham held a senior cabinet portfolio and had to be presented at the top of the ticket.

  • I would be disappointed if e.g the Australian Christians amalgamated with the Australian Conservatives. I think we need a dedicated Christian party in Australia. The christian voice would soon become muted inside a secular party. More work could be done to inform christians within the churches to vote for a christian party. The christian political party is a para church organisation in common with others working at addressing significant societal injustice. Organisations such as Family Voice, Emily’s Voice, Pregnancy Problem House WA, the Coalition for the Defence Of Human Life WA among others. These organisations would not exist if the Christian faith did not shape these organisations. They can have a subsidiary role in supporting christian politicians in the major parties. There should be an attempt to bring all christian parties under one umbrella.

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